The suspensions came without warning or initial explanation from Twitter. They came a day after Twitter changed its “live location information” sharing policy and suspended an account known as @elonjet that had used public flight data to share the location of Musk’s private jet.
Many of the journalists suspended Thursday, including Washington Post technology reporter Drew Harwell, had covered that rule change, as well as Musk’s claims that he and his family had been endangered by location sharing.
Twitter did not immediately respond to questions about the suspensions. But Musk suggested on Twitter, without evidence, that the journalists had revealed private information about his family, known as doxxing. “Criticizing me all day is fine, but doxxing my real-time location and endangering my family isn’t,” he tweeted late thursday.
Harwell, whose most recent stories covered the @elonjet ban and the rise of conspiracy theories on Twitter, found himself unable to log into his account or tweet around 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
“Harwell was banned from Twitter without warning, trial or explanation following the publication of his accurate coverage of Musk,” The Post editor-in-chief Sally Buzbee said in a statement. “Our journalist must be reinstated immediately.”
At least eight other journalists were suspended the same night, including New York Times technology reporter Ryan Mac.
CNN reporter Donie O’Sullivan was suspended shortly after posting a tweet about Musk’s claim that a “mad stalker” had been stalking his young son in Los Angeles, according to screenshots.
Matt Binder, a reporter for Mashable, tweeted about O’Sullivan’s suspension when his account was also blacked out.
The account of independent journalist Tony Webster was also suspended from Thursday evening. So did former MSNBC host Keith Olbermann’s accounts; Intercept reporter Micah Lee; Voice of America’s chief national correspondent Steve Herman; and Aaron Rupar, a Substack writer with nearly 800,000 followers on Twitter.
“It is impossible to reconcile Twitter’s freedom of speech with the purging of critical journalists’ accounts,” Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. “The First Amendment protects Musk’s right to do this, but it’s a terrible decision. Their accounts must be restored immediately.”
According to two former employees in contact with Twitter staff, the account bans in Twitter’s internal systems were labeled “toward Ella.” Ella Irwin, the company’s head of trust and security, has carried out many of Musk’s orders since buying the company in late October and began lifting the rules in the name of what he called “free speech.”
A previous suspension was marked ‘direction of Elon’.
Musk tweeted late Thursday that the suspensions would last a week, though several reporters were notified via Twitter that they had been permanently banned. Later that night he took a Twitter survey about when he should restore the accounts, but restarted it after several respondents said he should do so immediately.
Musk also reiterated his baseless claim that the journalists had revealed private information about his family.
“The same doxxing rules apply to ‘journalists’ as they do to everyone else,” he wrote in another tweet. “They posted my exact real-time location, basically murder coordinates.”
At around 11:30 p.m. Thursday, Musk engaged in a Twitter Spaces chat — essentially a public conference call — with several journalists, including some who had been banned, and repeated his claim that they had “doxed” him.
The journalists challenged him on this.
“You’re suggesting we share your address, which isn’t true,” Harwell said.
Musk replied, “You posted a link to the address.”
Harwell replied, “While reporting on @elonjet, we posted a link to @elonjet, which is not online right now.”
Musk abruptly left the conversation after about four minutes.
Musk bought Twitter for $44 billion in late October and quickly began undoing many of the previous management policies against hate speech and misinformation. He moved to reinstate former President Donald Trump and other accounts suspended under previous administration, saying Twitter’s new policy is “freedom of speech but not freedom of expression.”
But Musk’s Twitter had already banned some high-profile accounts before Thursday’s apparent purge.
On Wednesday, @elonjet was permanently suspended, despite a tweet from Musk weeks earlier saying he would stick with it as part of “my commitment to free speech.”
On the same day, a new Twitter policy banned the sharing of “live location information, including information shared directly to Twitter or links to … travel itineraries, actual physical location, or other identifying information that would reveal an individual’s location, whether or not this information is publicly available.”
Yet none of the tweets from suspended reporters that The Post reviewed revealed the location of Musk or his family.
Representative Lori Trahan (D-Mass) wrote on Twitter Thursday night that her staff met with Twitter officials that same day. “They told us that they will not retaliate against independent journalists or researchers who publish criticisms of the platform. Less than 12 hours later, several technology reporters have been suspended.”
The Committee for the Protection of Journalists criticized the suspensions in a statement:
“We are concerned about news reports that journalists who have covered recent developments regarding Twitter and its owner, Elon Musk, have had their accounts on the platform suspended. If confirmed in retaliation for their work, this would be a serious violation of journalists’ right to report the news without fear of reprisal.”
A spokesman for the New York Times called the suspensions “questionable and unfortunate” in a statement Thursday evening.
“Neither The Times nor Ryan have been given any explanation as to why this happened,” says Charlie Stadlander. “We hope that all of the journalists’ accounts will be reinstated and that Twitter will provide a satisfactory explanation for this action.”
In a company statement, CNN called the suspension of O’Sullivan and other reporters “impulsive and unfair” and said it had asked Twitter for an explanation. “We will reevaluate our relationship based on that response.”
Faiz Siddiqui, Joseph Menn and Elahe Izadi contributed to this report.